Tag: Alexa

Intel and Amazon partner on voice recognition tech

Intel and Amazon are partnering to put the former's silicon and smarts into the latter's Alexa voice platform. The chipmaker has introduced the Intel Speech Enabling Developer Kit to provide a "complete audio front-end solution for far-field voice control," according to a press release. The idea is that Intel has done the hard work of designing the mic arrays and voice systems and that all developers will need to do is write applications for them. It offers algorithms for echo cancellation and beam forming, wake words, an 8-mic array and the company's dual digital signal processor.

The development kit is up for preorder as of today for $399. And while that might be a little too expensive for a hobbyist developer (a Raspberry Pi is $25) for now, it isn't exorbitantly priced a la some game console development kits. If you wait until after the pre-order window, the cost jumps $100.

Of course, if you don't want to get your hands dirty with hardware -- or spend any money -- you can always make skills for Alexa for free with Amazon's developer portal. That's helped Amazon's voice platform grow by leaps and bounds, so it'll be interesting to see what effect Intel's new kit will have.

Source: Intel (1), (2)


Motorola’s newest mod puts an Alexa speaker on your phone

Ever wanted to have an Amazon Echo speaker with you wherever you are, rather than relying on your phone's built-in voice assistant? Motorola is betting you do. As promised, it's releasing an Alexa-powered Moto Mod (the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa, to be exact) that slaps an Echo-like device on the back of compatible phones like the Moto Z2 Force or Z Play. The key, as you might guess, is that it delivers that across-the-room voice control in a way your phone can't by itself.

The large dedicated speaker is clearly one advantage, but there are also four mics to make sure it picks up your voice in relatively noisy environments. And with a 15-hour built-in battery, you won't kill your phone if you're constantly asking questions. The mod also has a clever dock design that's intended for use on your nightstand.

If there's an obstacle, it's the cost. The Alexa speaker will be available for $150 US (£99 in the UK) when it ships in November to those countries where Alexa has official support. At that price, you'll have to really like the idea of a truly portable Echo speaker that fits in your pocket; this might be excessive if you just want another Echo for the office.

Source: Motorola Blog


Amazon’s Alexa can create lists for virtually anything

Amazon's Alexa may boast tens of thousands of skills, but there's probably a handful you keep coming back to. If you're the adventurous type, you might use it to find baby-making tunes, brush up on Eurovision trivia, or play a tickling game. Everyone else, it seems, sticks to its most popular trick: creating lists. And, now Amazon is giving you the power to tally absolutely anything.

The company is expanding Alexa's shopping and to-do list functions to include custom lists. So, you'll be able to compose lists for different stores, like Walmart and (if Amazon has its way) Whole Foods. Plus, you could make specific lists for your travels, family members, and even holidays. Once you're done, your list will be saved to the Alexa mobile app -- plus, you can now use Alexa skills to sync all your new lists with select third-party apps too (including Any.do, AnyList and Cozi).

The feature is currently rolling out and will be available to all Echo devices over the next few days.

Via: TechCrunch


Sonos One review: The best-sounding smart speaker you can buy

When Sonos released the Play:5 speaker in late 2015, the Amazon Echo was still an unproven tech curiosity. But since then, Alexa and the Echo have grown rapidly in both popularity and functionality, inspiring competition from the likes of Google and Apple. Talking to a speaker is totally normal now -- but Sonos users haven't been able to that. They've instead had to choose between the convenience of products like the Echo and Google Home and the superior audio quality that Sonos speakers offer.

Sonos has known for some time that this is a problem. In early 2016, then-CEO John MacFarlane cited the Echo as primary competition and promised that voice recognition would be a key technology for the company moving forward. Now, we're finally seeing the fruits of that effort. The Sonos One takes everything that worked in the company's entry-level Play:1 speaker and adds in support for Amazon's Alexa, which means you can finally talk to a Sonos speaker and have it play music for you. But with Google, Amazon and Apple all working on music-focused speakers of their own, Sonos could get buried if the One doesn't do everything right.

Hardware

If you've used the $199 Play:1 speaker, you'll feel right at home with the Sonos One. At a glance, it features the same rounded rectangular shape as the Play:1, but adds a few new design flourishes to match Sonos' current design language. The top of the One is completely flat now, with no physical buttons like the ones on the Play:1. Instead, the One's top surface doubles as a touch panel, with a play/pause button dead center. On either side are spots to tap to raise and lower volume, and sliding your finger left to right lets you skip to the next track. This setup is identical to what Sonos first introduced on the Play:5 and carried over into the recently-released PlayBase; I'm glad to see it here as well.

There are two LED lights on top of the speaker. One is a status light to show you when the device is working or having trouble connecting to the internet; the second is underneath a little microphone icon. As you'd expect, this shows you whether the six-microphone array in the One is active. Tap the mic icon to keep the speaker from listening in, and the light goes out.

Other than updates to the top or the speaker, the only external difference between the One and Play:1 is that the grille is now color-matched to the rest of the speaker, which comes in black or white. The Play:1's grille is gray, regardless of what color the rest of the exterior is.

The Sonos One uses the same audio components and speakers as those found in the Play:1, but the internal layout had to be completely redesigned in order to fit the microphones. But Sonos was able to make the necessary changes without affecting the size or weight of the One -- these specs remain unchanged from the Play:1.

Setup

Once you plug in the Sonos One, all of the setup is done on your smartphone. If you've never set up Sonos products before, you'll need to create a Sonos account; from there you just need to connect the speaker to your WiFi network. You'll then want to sign in to the music services that you use -- Sonos supports essentially every available option, including Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, Tidal, Amazon Music and many more.

The next part of the setup process is entirely new: enabling Alexa. You'll need to have the Alexa app installed on your smartphone -- the Sonos app will direct you there, at which point your new speaker will show up as ready to be configured. It's a pretty simple process, but you'll then have to enable your music services in Amazon's app as well.

That's where I encountered a hiccup with. The speaker only works with music services supported by Amazon and Alexa, which currently only includes Amazon Music (naturally), Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. Even though Spotify works with other Alexa-enabled devices, it doesn't yet work on the One, though Sonos says it'll be ready soon. Other music services that aren't supported by Alexa will work with the One through the app, and you'll still be able to use voice commands to pause, resume and skip tracks. But you won't be able to ask Alexa to play specific albums or playlists from your Play Music or Tidal account, at least for now.

One last word on setting up voice services. Over the years, Sonos has committed to supporting every audio service that it could, and it wants to do the same with voice control systems as well. As such, the Google Assistant will come to the Sonos One sometime early next year. So, if you prefer Google's voice assistant, know that it should be available before too long. In particular, those using Google Play Music or YouTube Music will want to give this a shot.

Audio quality

Since the Sonos One has the same audio hardware as the Play:1, sound quality was essentially indistinguishable between the two, and that's a good thing. The Sonos One impressed me with clear, dynamic and loud sound that far outstrips Google Home or the original Echo (the second-generation model, announced three weeks ago, is supposed to have better audio). Of course, you're paying a bit more for the One,, but $199 is a totally reasonable price for the sound quality you get here. The One lacks the bass performance, stereo separation and improved clarity you'll get from a larger, more expensive speaker like Sonos' own Play:5 or the forthcoming Google Home Max, but the price-performance ratio here is excellent.

As with the rest of the Sonos lineup, you can tune these speakers using a feature called "TruePlay." It uses the mic on your iPhone to analyze your room and optimizes the sound of the speaker based on where it has been placed. I've been impressed with TruePlay since it was unveiled two years ago, but it's worth noting that Google and Apple are both releasing speakers that can tune themselves any time you move them. Since no Sonos speaker (until the One) has had working mics, this hasn't been possible, and the One still uses the same tuning process as the rest of the Sonos lineup.

The downsides to the One mostly come down to bass, as I mentioned earlier. There's only so much you can get out of such a compact speaker. The sound still sounds balanced -- I didn't feel like the music was lacking when listening to the One on its own -- but the low end is not as strong as what you'll get from larger (and more expensive) speakers.

The One is also a mono speaker, but you can pair two of them together to get stereo sound as well as increased volume. I've tried this before with a pair of Play:1 speakers and it makes a significant difference in the music quality and listening experience. One speaker is just fine for background music, but people serious about audio quality will appreciate having a stereo pair.

Unfortunately, it's not possible to pair a Sonos One and Play:1 together in stereo, despite the fact that they're essentially the same speaker. Sonos said that most customers pair speakers together when they buy them in a pair, but there are also probably people who've bought one Play:1 to try Sonos out who'd be interested in adding a One for voice control and stereo playback. The company did at least say that this feature could be added in the future via a software update.

Otherwise, the One works with the rest of the Sonos lineup just as well as you'd expect. If you have other Sonos speakers and want to group the One with them for multi-room playback, you can do that right in the Sonos app.

Alexa integration

But if you're buying the Sonos One, you don't want to use the music player app -- you want to control it with your voice. Assuming you're using a service that works with Alexa, this works basically the same as an Echo. This means that you can ask your One to start play any song, album, artist, playlist or anything else in your music library. The Alexa app also lets you pick different services for your "music library" and "stations," if you're so inclined. That lets you access playlists and albums from one service but have another play genre-based stations (what Pandora has focused on for so many years).

Once you've started playing some tunes, you can ask Alexa to raise and lower the volume, skip tracks or pause your music entirely. You can also send music to other Sonos speakers in your setup using Alexa. You can tell Alexa to play music on other speakers the names that you've assigned them in the Sonos app (living room, office, etc.). Overall, music control with voice works just fine, whether using a music session you kicked off with your voice or something you started in the Sonos app. If you've used Alexa on one of Amazon's own devices before, you'll mostly be right at home with the Sonos One voice commands.

Unfortunately, there were a few times I ran into some strange and frustrating bugs -- the speaker wasn't recognizing that it was playing music, so "pause" or "next track" requests didn't work. Amazon Music also occasionally got confused and told me it was playing on another device so it couldn't play on the speaker I asked for. Sonos helped me troubleshoot the problem -- just asking Alexa to "discover devices" cleared things up. It seemed to re-sync the Sonos skill with the speaker, essentially, and then I was happily playing tunes again.

I also occasionally had trouble getting the One to hear my cries of "Alexa" when I wanted its attention. That was only when I had music playing pretty loudly, and I'm pretty sure that was the cause of my problem. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's probably worth noting that you might have a hard time getting Alexa's attention if you're cranking some tunes.

Alexa integration means the One can also do almost anything that Echo devices can do. You can install skills for managing smarthome devices, sync your calendar and reminders to Alexa, get weather forecasts and news updates, ask random trivia questions and add the many third-party skills that Amazon's service supports.

There are a couple of notable Alexa services that aren't enabled when using the Sonos One: voice calls and messaging. Those features are saved for Amazon's own hardware at the moment. Sonos said that those features could be added in the future, but the company wanted to focus the experience more on music than the full suite of Alexa features -- a reasonable claim, but the One can do nearly everything else that Alexa can do, so it feels more like this is something Amazon wanted to save for itself. This one feature aside, though, the Sonos One is a strong option for getting an excellent music speaker that also taps into nearly everything that Alexa can do.

The competition

Sonos products have historically been pretty unique, but as we've mentioned, the last year has seen some major players get into the music speaker market. With Alexa on board, the new Echo and Echo Plus are the Sonos One's most direct competitors. We haven't fully reviewed either, but I'd be surprised if either offered audio quality that's on part with the One. But at only $99, the standard Echo will offer an improved speaker compared to its predecessor. Plenty of people were already listening to music on the Echo, and now new buyers will end up with an even better speaker. For lots of people, the Echo speaker will be good enough.

The Echo Plus is slightly bigger than the standard Echo, and as such has a bigger tweeter. That said, improved audio over the standard Echo isn't a selling point Amazon has mentioned, so it's safe to assume it'll provide a similar listening experience. We can't say for sure yet, but we'll be reviewing both of them soon.

Apple and Google are both launching their own music-focused, voice-controlled speakers this winter: the HomePod and Home Max, respectively. Based on the various demos we've had, both seem like they'll outperform the Sonos One from an audio standpoint. But, that's to be expected -- the Home Max costs twice as much ($399), and the HomePod comes in just under that at $350. And in both cases, you won't have access to Alexa; you'll have to be content with the Google Assistant or Siri as your digital assistant.

If you're thinking of spending that much money on a speaker but would prefer the Sonos ecosystem, you might as well consider the $499 Sonos Play:5. No, it doesn't have voice control built in, but you can pair it with an Echo Dot and get the same level of voice control that the Sonos One offers, with audio quality that far surpasses any other connected speaker you could buy.

None of these options match the Sonos One's $199 price point; the speaker really does sit alone in this category. It's better than an Echo or Google Home, but probably not as good as what Google and Apple have coming up. But if you have even a passing interest in playing music around your house, the Sonos One hits a sweet spot, offering great music quality without breaking the bank.

Wrap-up

The Play:1 has been Sonos' best-selling speaker, and with good reason. It offers significantly better music quality than your average Bluetooth or smart speaker without breaking the bank. It's also a great first step into a multi-speaker setup for your home. The Sonos One does all of that and adds voice controls without raising the price. Those voice controls may have a few bugs to work out, but aside from one frustrating afternoon it worked well for me.

Anyone who is considering an Echo or Google Home would do well to consider the Sonos One, as well. In a world where white earbuds, laptop speakers and Bluetooth devices have come to dominate the music-listening experience, a lot of people have forgotten how good a dedicated music speaker can sound.

The Sonos One is a great way for most people to significantly upgrade your audio setup while also getting the convenience of voice controls. I wish that both Spotify voice commands and the Google Assistant were supported at launch, but this speaker will keep getting more features through upcoming software updates. Given that, I have no problem recommending it now. It'll work right out of the box as an Alexa-enabled device, it'll support more music services over time and it's a great way to dip your feet into the Sonos ecosystem. Just don't be surprised if you end up wanting to buy a few more.


Garmin Speak puts Amazon Alexa in your car

Gamin's GPS devices already feature voice control, but if you'd prefer to have Alexa onboard, its latest product is more your jam. The GPS device maker has just released Garmin Speak, which it says is the first in-vehicle device with hands-free access to Alexa. It's a tiny little thing, measuring just around an inch-a-half with a LED light ring and an OLED display that shows turn-by-turn directions. You can talk to the voice assistant through it the same way you'd talk to Alexa through an Echo: just say "Alexa" and follow it up with a voice command.

Need directions? Say "Alexa, ask Garmin to route me to" where you're going. The voice assistant can add items to your grocery list through Speak, play music or read an audiobook through your car's speakers, check your schedule, look up the weather and order you food. Simply speaking, anything Alexa can do for you at home, it can do for you on the move, though take note that it has to use your mobile data to work.

Amazon Alexa VP or Automotive Ned Curic said in a statement:

"Our vision is that the Alexa service will be everywhere our customers want it, including inside the car. Alexa on the Garmin Speak can help customers with many things, like controlling their smart home from the road, getting news or traffic, listening to Audiobooks, adding items to a shopping list, and ordering dinner with just their voice."

The Garmin Speak is now available through Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers for $150, around the same price as some of Garmin's other in-car models.

Source: Garmin Speak


Amazon’s Alexa can recognize the voices of multiple users

Echo devices keep getting better, getting multi-room audio, access to Google calendars, and intercom features. Now, though, Amazon just matched one of Google Home's killer features: the ability to recognize multiple voices. In a video on the retailer's help site, you can see how to set up and use Voice Profiles. Alexa can now recognize voices in order to route Messages, Calls, allow access to shopping without a confirmation code, play Flash briefings and access an Amazon Music Unlimited Family plan based on the person speaking.

To set up your own voice profile, you'll need to go through the Amazon app. You'll go to your account settings and tap Your Voice, then tap on your profile name. You'll have to give the app permission to upload contacts to the Amazon service, and then you'll need to say several phrases out loud. If you want to add other people to the same device, you'll need to have them sign into their own account via their own Alexa app, or they can choose the "I'm someone else" option on your mobile Alexa app, then train their voice on the device in the same way.

Ultimately, this makes having Amazon smart speakers in homes with more than one person just that much more useful. Amazon confirmed that the update is rolling out to the Alexa app today.

Source: Amazon


Meet Alice: The virtual assistant from Russian search giant Yandex

Russian search giant Yandex has unveiled its virtual assistant Alice. Like Alexa or Siri, Alice provides users with directions, weather forecasts and news as well as incorporating access to other Yandex offerings like its music service. And, of course, it does all of this in Russian, which Yandex points out isn't an easy language for AI to tackle. "Speech recognition is especially challenging for the Russian language due to its grammatical and morphological complexities," Yandex it said in a statement. "According to word error rate measurements, SpeechKit provides world-best accuracy for spoken Russian recognition, enabling Alice to understand speech with a near human-level accuracy."

And that accuracy applies to Russian slang as well. Yandex says that when a user asks for the weather in Moscow, for example, and then follows that up with "And what about Peter?" Alice knows to give the weather forecast for St. Petersburg.

Yandex isn't the only regional company to incorporate a voice-activated assistant into its repertoire. Chinese tech company Baidu did the same thing in 2015, demonstrating just how popular and in-demand virtual assistants have become. Alice is now available through the Yandex search app for iOS and Android. A Windows version is currently in beta testing.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Yandex


All 30 NBA teams will have their own Alexa skill this season

Amazon's Alexa is already helpful for broadcasting sports scores upon request. For the upcoming NBA season though, the virtual assistant will serve up more detailed information on every team in the league. All 30 teams will have their own Alexa Skills, which means you can ask for things like the date of the next home game, who your teams plays on a specific date, if they're winning, stats leaders, standings and the latest team news.

"Alexa, ask the Charlotte Hornets..." is the phrasing you'll need to speak to initiate the request. And of course, saying "Alexa, enable (insert team name here)" will activate the skill for that particular team on your compatible device.

The NBA says its the first pro sports league to make every team available through Alexa. What's more, the NBA regular season starts next week, so you've got plenty of time to enable the skill for your favorite team(s) before the action begins.


Alexa helps you reserve a ride with car2go’s carsharing service

You can now order a car2go by commanding Alexa to find the nearest one and reserve it. The pay-by-time carsharing service is the latest automotive-related company to get a skill that integrates it with Amazon's voice assistant, following BMW and Nissan.

The skill allows users to vocally ask about the nearest car2go vehicle, reserve it for up to 30 minutes or cancel it. While that limits your searches to whatever's close by -- instead of, say, cross-referencing for a slick Mercedes if you wanted something bigger than the company's standard smart car -- but hey, sometimes you don't want to spend more effort snagging a car than barking at your smart speaker.

Source: Car2go (PDF)


Harman’s Cortana-powered speaker may go on sale soon for $200

Harman Kardon's Cortana-powered speaker might be hitting stores sometime soon. The Verge reports that a listing for the Invoke with Cortana has shown up in Microsoft's store alongside a $200 price tag.

We got a peek at the speaker in May at Computex 2017 though we haven't been able to experience its capabilities for ourselves quite yet. Along with the Invoke, Harman Kardon recently announced three new Google Assistant-powered JBL Link speakers as well as an Alexa-enabled speaker dubbed the Allure -- completing its virtual assistant trifecta.

The Invoke is a little pricier than the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, which are $100 and $129, respectively, but it does come with six months of free Skype calling to mobile and landline phones in the US. We still don't have a launch date yet, but this appearance is a pretty good indication that we should expect such an announcement sometime soon.

Via: The Verge, WalkingCat (Twitter)

Source: Microsoft